Alright. I normally try to be pretty upbeat about parenting. It’s a tough job, but we all do it and we should all support one another. And I like to think I am pretty good at tuning out judgments, especially those that come from non-parents. But this holiday season I have been reading more comments and hearing more snide remarks than usual about something we deal with in this house on a daily basis. Something that really isn’t anyone’s business. Seeing as a lot of us are seeing family and friends for meals in the next few weeks, I decided I was just going to lay it all out there. Please excuse some of the snark, but seriously. Shut up about my picky eater.
You’d be surprised (actually most parents probably wouldn’t) by the number of people who feel they can just tell me anything and everything they think on the topic. Right in front of my child too. Here’s the thing. I know he is a picky eater. It is something we have been working on for a long time. And the holidays bring about foods we don’t see during the rest of the year. Fun for some people, scary for a young picky eater. Like all parents, I am doing the best I can to help my eater. Judgements and rude remarks are not helpful. Here are some of the more common things I hear.
What not to say
Just tell them to eat it.
Wow, thank you. It’s just that easy, huh. Why didn’t I think to just tell my 4 year old to eat it? Oh wait, I did. Can I let you know how that worked? Shockingly, not well. If a child really doesn’t want to eat something, this method doesn’t work. Trust me, I have told my kids they need to eat something many times. That doesn’t mean they will do it. This could have worked for your kids, and I think it can work better with older kids. They understand more logic and can get that their bodies need these healthy foods. For younger kids, well, they just don’t think that way. Studies show that little kids don’t fully understand the idea that if they don’t eat now they will be hungry later. Little ones just don’t get long-term consequences, they live in the now. They don’t want to eat it now, so they won’t.
(And by the way, if you think giving this advice is helpful think about applying it to other areas. Your child won’t sleep at night? Just tell them to sleep. Having potty training difficulties? Just tell them to use the potty. Having a hard time learning to read? Well just tell them to read the words. Seriously, every parent faces a challenge in which just telling your child something didn’t work. So keep this one to yourself.)
My kids ate what I put in front of them.
Great? No really, I am happy that this wasn’t an issue for you. (And if your child is still a year or younger, just wait. They might keep that up, and they might not.) Picky eating is frustrating to deal with, and it can’t really be ignored. But this is not helpful. I am happy this wasn’t your family’s struggle. But I bet there are things that I didn’t have to deal with when it comes to my kids that other parents have had to. Telling them it wasn’t a problem for me doesn’t solve their problem. It just comes across smug.
Make them eat it.
This is just another version of the previous two, but I hear it frequently. My question is just how exactly am I supposed to make them eat it? Am I supposed to actually put the food in their mouths and move their jaws to chew? Cram it down their throat? Because that sounds like abuse to me. You cannot physically make another person eat something. I try, but at the end of the day if my kid doesn’t want to swallow something I cannot make him. It just doesn’t work, so stop saying this.
You should have . (Take your pick: breastfed, done baby-led weaning, started with veggies, not given sugar, etc.)
Right from the start, I’m going to say you can’t go back in time and change the past. So saying a parent should have done something different is at best moot, and at worst mean. Maybe I did something ‘wrong’ with feeding my kid. I can’t change it, so why focus on that? But more to the point- we did everything ‘right’ in terms of introducing foods. I breastfed my son for 14 months. We did baby-led weaning, starting with vegetables first. He didn’t have any refined sugar until his first birthday. (I know, I gave him birthday cake. I’m a monster.) He didn’t eat junk food for a very long time. And yet…. here we are. Some kids skew towards picky. When you create your time machine so I can go and make different choices in the past, you can talk to me about this one.
Wouldn’t it be easier if you didn’t have to pack special food? (Said when we are away from home for meals.)
Yes, yes it would. It would also be easier if I didn’t have to bring diapers. It would be easier if I didn’t have to strap my kids into car seats. Heck, it would just be easier if I just didn’t bring my kids out. The thing is, I like my kids, and I like taking them places. They also seem to enjoy eating. Unless starvation is an acceptable parenting option, I am going to bring a few items I know they will eat. Not having a hungry child is easier.
This is my special dish, he has to at least try it.
I get it, food is love to me too. You make something yummy because you care about people. I know that you put a lot of time and love into this special food. Maybe it is a holiday tradition to eat this. But to a child, it is still an unknown, potentially scary food. He is rejecting the food, not your love. (And no, I can’t just make him eat it. Is that what you really want? To force feed someone in an attempt to show you care?) I hope you can be the adult in this situation (because my 4-year-old cannot) and accept that.
Picky eaters are just undisciplined and unmannered. (In other words, they have slacker parents.)
Nope, just not true. We discipline our kids. We also stress manners in this house. My children are not allowed to say anything is gross or disgusting. But they are allowed to have opinions and say they did not care for something. They are required to sit at the table and participate in the conversation. They cannot throw fits or whine or tantrum about meals. Please and thank you are mandatory. So is asking to be excused. They must use silverware and napkins as best they are able. You know what they don’t have to do? Put something in their mouths they don’t want to. Manners matter. When they are a bit older we will work more on trying new foods and learn to eat what they don’t like. But I like to keep expectations age appropriate. My picky eater is 4. It is not undisciplined for him to act like a 4-year-old sometimes.
Picky eating is such a pet peeve of mine.
Um, okay? I get it that we all have things that annoy us, but what does this have to do with me or my child? Are you the one preparing the meals? Are you the one who carefully thinks through meal plans and tries to squeeze in maximum nutrition while having a balance between new foods and foods you know your child will actually eat? Is your life really inconvenienced in any way based on what my child eats? No. I didn’t think so. This isn’t your problem, so look away and find something else to be annoyed by. Or just keep it to yourself. We aren’t trying to annoy you, find something more important to worry about.
You can’t let him just fill up on bread.
This one is common at holiday meals. The thing is, yes I can. I can totally let my kid just eat bread for a single meal. (Although if that happened I would actually be thrilled. My picky eater doesn’t like bread. Yep, that is what I am dealing with. Who doesn’t like bread?) Holiday meals are breaks from the usual fare. We all eat things we normally don’t, and often in larger quantities we should. My kid can eat what makes him happy. It isn’t going to kill him. And holiday meals are a break for me. Do you know how tiring it is to fight the food fight? Three meals a day, every day. It wears on a mom. This meal is a chance for me to let it go and relax. Don’t take that from me.
The parents just aren’t trying hard enough.
This one makes me want to cry. And yes, I’ve heard this and read this comment on threads about picky eating. Not trying hard enough? Are you kidding me? Do you know how many recipes I have tried to find things my picky eater will like? Do you know how many techniques and methods and theories we’ve tried? We’ve disciplined, we’ve served the same thing over and over, we’ve offered bribes, we’ve lectured. We take our son grocery shopping and let him pick the veggies that look good to him. He helps me cook. We talk and talk and talk about how important making healthy choices is. About how we need a variety of healthy foods to grow and have the energy to play. About how you don’t have to love every food, but it is important to try them. We’ve watched the Daniel Tiger episodes about trying new foods and read a ton of books. It hasn’t worked. Three times a day, every day, I am facing this battle. Trust me, I am trying.
So what can you say?
Alright, enough complaining about what I hear on a regular basis about my picky eater. Is anything helpful? Yes, some things are. (Besides of course just not saying anything at all. That is an option if you are feeling particularly judgemental.) Here is what makes me not want to go fetal and pretend we can survive just never eating again.
My child only ate Cheerios for a time.
Or ketchup. Or raisins. Or whatever picky phase you faced. Thank you for letting me know I am not the only one to face this. It is so easy to feel like a failure as a parent. Knowing other moms have walked this road (and survived!) makes me feel better and energizes me to keep trying.
I have a recipe my kid liked.
This might not be for everyone, but it is a yes for me. Tell me what your child ate. It’s worth a try, right? I want my child to be healthy and to try new foods. If another child was willing to eat it, then I will give it a go. Thank you.
Let’s have our kids share a meal.
Believe it or not, I love when my picky eater gets to eat with other kids. You know what works wonders to get him to try something new? Peer pressure! (Yep, it isn’t always a bad thing.) He eats several foods now only because he saw his friends eat it. I know this is a risky one, peer pressure works both ways. I do not want my picky eater to pass on bad habits. But if you are willing to chance it I would be so grateful.
You’re doing a good job.
Isn’t this the one every mom hopes to hear? And the one I think we all need to hear more. But it is so helpful to know someone sees that I am trying. That I am doing my best to help my child. And that picky eating does not define who my child is, or who I am as a mother.
Look, in the grand scheme of things, picky eating is not a big deal. Heck, it really isn’t even a deal at all when you think about what some parents have to go through and the struggles some children face. Maybe because it is such a small thing people think they can just spout off whatever they want on the subject without a care. It’s nothing personal. But as a mother, what my child does and does not eat is a very big deal. It’s personal to me.
Is the world going to end based on what my child eats? Probably not. Is it really impacting your life that much? I don’t think so. So just stop with the comments and leave my picky eater alone. There are much bigger things in the world for you to worry about.
If you would like to learn more about how we are handling picky eating, check out these posts: